Both China and Russia are happy that the western forces will pull out from Afghanistan in two years time. But with the rose also comes the thorns. Both Beijing and Moscow are also apprehensive of the fact that a crumbling Pakistan will spoil the party for them because an incapacitated Islamabad will only see Islamic fundamentalists spilling over into Chinese and central Asian territories, which form Russia's backyards. The two countries have been working on infrastructure in Afghanistan and the country has also been admitted into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as an observer member.
But there is a twist...
Both China and Russia, while eyeing opportunities in Afghanistan, are also concerned about the security implications in the region. The SCO is not as powerful as the NATO in safeguarding peace in the war-torn Afghanistan and its surroundings and there is every chance that both Beijing and China back western efforts to back governments in Kabul. The US has also spoken to China over Pakistan's problems and there is a possibility of a security arrangement backed by the big powers emerging in Afghanistan. Forums like SCO and CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation) joining hands with the NATO in future look possible.
Where does India stand?
India's opportunity in Afghanistan rests on two factors. One, most of the surrounding players have not really cared for a new Afghanistan. None of Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran have shown intent for the country's security. In this case, the USA can bank on India to play a positive role in Afghanistan's reconstruction and already it has engaged in building infrastructure, highways and hospitals in Afghan soil and the adjacent areas like in Tajikistan. The fact that Pakistan has lost its credibility in Afghanistan will also play to India's advantage.
The second factor is Karzai himself. The man is trying hard to project himself as an independent entity who is not influenced by the West and India's backing will help him establish a brave image among his people, both through institution-building and economic development.
It is true that India had good relation with Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's opponent in the last Afghan election, for New Delhi wasn't sure about the sustainability of the latter's tainted government. But the assassination of former Afghan President and a member of the Northern Alliance Burhanuddin Rabbani, allegedly by the Pak-based Taliban, gave birth to a strong anti-Pakistan and anti-Taliban stand in Kabul and Karzai found a chance to tilt more to India to give vent to the rising anger against Pakistan.
The Northern Alliance has also put considerable pressure on Karzai to befriend India, one of its old allies, more. India, which has also been helped by the bad US-Pak relations, should try to exploit its old ties with the NA members for future benefits in Afghanistan.
India's options in Afghanistan
Militarily it will be difficult and India should focus on softer means to rebuild Afghanistan, the more softer ones. New Delhi must ensure that it does not delay in implementing measures for Afghanistan's rebuilding and that the ties at the popular level strengthens. Offering more scholarship to Afghan students, relaxing visas for Afghan businessmen, students and patients and backing private investments in key social and economic sectors. The Investment Summit on Afghanistan that India hosted in New Delhi in June was a positive development.
India should also support Afghanistan to rebuild its indigenous economy, which will create employment. This is will be a welcome move on the country for only external aid, which too is dropping alarmingly, can not help it survive. Infrastructure-building is key in Afghanistan, both political and economic, and there is a big opportunity for India to involve itself more in that country. India will be more than needed to help develop a democratic Afghanistan.
Afghanistan can also gain from the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project although for India, resistance from Pakistan might not allow it to come closer to Afghanistan and central Asia through such energy security medium.
In fact, there is every chance of Afghanistan getting closer to central Asia instead of south Asia owing to the Chinese and Russian overtures and the sour India-Pakistan relation but India must not give up its efforts and must try to get closer to SCO and CSTO so that it does not lose ground in Afghanistan.